The three political systems of Lanka - Democracy, Theocracy and Hypocrisy

by Gamini Weerakoon

(September 15, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The anticipated climax of the clash of saffron robes of the monks and the black robes of Hulftsdorp fortunately did not come off. The country is suffering from far too many confrontations. Good sense and sanity prevailed. The Mahanayake of Asgiriya and other leading monks made it quite clear that the sangha had to respect the law of the land.

Ven. Ellawala Medhananda, a leading monk of the militant Jathika Hela Urumaya while justifying the action of a group of monks who did not stand up and curtesy when the judges of the Supreme Court entered court saying that Buddhist monks did not stand up even to kings, conceded that monks should respect the law of the country.

The monk who was the origin of the furore - Ven. Pannala Pagngnaloka Thero, chief priest of the Welikadawatte Temple, Rajagiriya, who had been produced before a magistrate on a complaint of sound pollution caused by the use of unauthorised loudspeakers and had failed to answer summons on September 1, had in a letter to the Supreme Court said that the due date for his appearance had not been clearly stated and that he respected the law and the court. The unauthorised loudspeakers would not be used in the future, he had assured.

Simmering discontent

The conflict between traditions of Buddhist monks from the temples and the traditions of the temples of justice was an issue earlier as well when monks for the first time entered parliament - regarded as the highest court of the land by constitutional authorities.

The question arose whether monks should stand up when the mace was carried into parliament and the Speaker enters the chamber, as has been the tradition. The legislator monks balked and an arrangement was worked out where they would enter the chamber after the mace was brought in. A similar compromise has been worked out for the courts.

Even though the protocol for Buddhist monks in parliament and courts had been worked out there appears to be simmering anger over the court ruling on the use and abuse of loudspeakers - no loud speakers to be used between the hours of 6 pm and 6 am.

Last week the walls of Colombo were plastered with posters asking why pirith can't be chanted in Sri Lanka, the land dedicated to the Buddha. What the posters didn't say is that pirith or any religious incantation or sermon can be said within the confines of temples, churches, mosques and kovils within these prohibited hours but there can be no use of amplifiers. It is obvious that even music and baila can be played but without the use of the tin horn.


This law on sound pollution initiated by the Supreme Court will be welcomed by all sensible people, particularly the professionals. The demand for control in sound pollution by loudspeakers has been increasing over the years as religious fanaticism grew exponentially.

The growing mental distortion seems to be that louder the volume of noise emanated the greater is the expression of piety and devotion, quite in disregard to the annoyance and disturbance caused to non-followers of the particular faith.

One person's faith can be another's torture. It is only when one is at the receiving end of a tin horn blasting piety of another faith, the need for control or elimination of noise pollution is realised. Most places of worship of the main religions, be it temples, mosques, kovils or churches are guilty of committing this social evil.

Two weeks ago we were at a cremation in the sylvan solitude of the Mahaiyawa Cemetery, Kandy. Peace and tranquillity prevailed as the coffin was being closed to be put into the crematorium. But right at that moment came a deafening raucous blast of a loudspeaker from a neighbouring mosque shattering the sombre mood of the mourners. We were told that this happens daily in the afternoons and evenings when the dead are being laid to rest or cremated.

It would not have been a voluntary act by the perpetrators who may not even be aware of the extreme annoyance they are causing. It is obvious that laws have to be in place to prevent this involuntary insult to the dead and torture of the living.

Deafness of the devout

It is our conviction that convincing the devout of their folly is not possible. Many have been the letters and articles published in the media that the Buddha, the Hindu sages, Christ and Mohammed were able to spread their teachings globally, millennia before the tin horn was invented. We do not think that the much hailed and publicised meetings of religious leaders, multi religious seminars or congresses of religions can help. If they could, this nonsense would have ceased to be long years ago.

If logic and reason fail then enforcement by law is required. But for enforcement of the law, political leaders should be committed to it and not be scared of religious backlashes by going against the popular but stupid will of the masses. Since our leaders have lost the guts to lead the people, officials should be left to implement the laws they are bound to implement.

17th Amendment

This brings us to the usual conclusion we have reached in most of our recent columns: implementation of the 17th Amendment. The Welikada Police inspector is rare and should be complimented in acting on a complaint made on sound pollution and prosecuting the offending monk.

But most policemen will fear to act against religious dignitaries of any religion. Some of these holy men will not hesitate to call for the heads of policemen who follow the law and prosecute offenders irrespective of whether they are clergymen or laymen.

Another good reason is that if the President himself does not act in accordance with the constitution and appoints a Constitutional Council which can appoint independent officials to run the police, public, judicial, elections and financial services, why should they take risks against powerful religious dignitaries? Their police chief under the present set up has the powers of a puppet on a string to protect them!

These considerations lead us to the conclusion that Sri Lanka has three political systems going. One is what is called Democracy - rule by leaders who were elected by the people. These political leaders are dictated by and indebted to religious dignitaries or even village priests with political clout. This could be called rule by religious leaders - Theocracy as in the days when the Catholic Church ran an empire. The other system could be called sheer Hypocrisy - telling the people one thing, religious leaders another thing and doing your own thing for the benefit of yourself and of course your family too.

Thus Sri Lanka is unique with three political systems - Democracy, Theocracy and Hypocrisy. It sure works for the ruling family.
- Sri Lanka Guardian